Release Date(s)2023 (August 1, 2023)
Studio(s)Depth of Field (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Sebastian Maniscalco achieved fame with his stand-up shows about growing up in Chicago under the authoritarian guidance of his Italian immigrant father. He and co-writer Austen Earl have mined this material for the semi-autobiographical film About My Father. Playing a version of himself, Maniscalco combines his forte—verbal comedy—with physical gags. Robert De Niro co-stars as the father, Salvo, in a hybrid of Meet the Parents and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Sebastian has decided it’s time to ask his girlfriend, the lively, lovely artist Ellie (Leslie Bibb), to marry him. He wants to place a family heirloom ring on her finger but his curmudgeonly father imposes a condition for relinquishing the ring: he wants to meet his son’s future in-laws to judge their worthiness. Though Sebastian feels the meeting will go anything but smoothly, he agrees.
Ellie’s wealthy WASP parents, Tigger (Kim Cattrall) and Bill (David Rasche), welcome Sebastian and his dad for the Fourth of July weekend and introduce them to the rest of the family: elder son Lucky (Anders Holm), a typical rich-boy idler pleased to flaunt his privilege, and younger son Doug (Brett Dier), a hippie stoner who uses special bowls as musical instruments and serenades peacocks with a recorder.
Much of the humor relies on fish-out-of-water gags about the luxurious lifestyle of the prospective in-laws and the clash of worlds experienced by Salvo. As a talented hairdresser in the 1980s, it’s unlikely that Salvo would feel awkward in a rich person’s home or even dining at a country club, but that can be chalked up to comic license.
Maniscalco’s physical comedy is on view in a scene on the tennis court, where he’s partnered with uber-competitive Tigger, and in another aloft on a water-jet pack when his bathing suit slips down, scandalizing the very people he hopes to impress. Mostly, however, the script lets Maniscalco do what he does best—react and comment on the strange world he and Salvo have entered. As an actor, Maniscalco doesn’t have much of a stretch. This isn’t Shakespeare, and who better than himself to play himself? He projects quiet desperation as he is repeatedly embarrassed by his father, yet his love for the old codger shines through. His scenes with De Niro have a genuine feel and the dialogue, though funny, never seems to have been written with punchlines in mind.
Having played a similar role in Meet the Parents, De Niro is adept at portraying a cranky old man, and he practically phones in his role. Yet he nails the gags and does the dialogue justice with a scowl and a dismissive look, as if he’s surrounded by crazy people. Excellent chemistry between De Niro and Maniscalco holds the film together.
Cattrall and Rasche provide plenty of laughs as the affluent parents often oblivious to how their casual remarks irk Salvo, a man who’s had to labor his entire life and is amazed at how unconcerned they are about the cost of things. Cattrall’s best scene is on the tennis court, when her polite, hospitable lady gives way to an aggressive competitor who can’t stand to lose. Rashe is wonderful as he stumbles through pleasantries, often putting his foot in his mouth.
The sons, Lucky and Doug, are straight out of sitcom territory. Opposites in character, neither rings true and they appear to have been inserted just to milk easy laughs and pad the script.
Despite its flaws, About My Father has heart, and many viewers will find it both entertaining and touching. With Maniscalco surprisingly subdued, it’s De Niro and the supporting cast who get most of the laughs. It’s as if we’re watching one of Maniscalco’s stand-up routines come to life as he narrates his own story.
About My Father was captured digitally by director of photography Rogier Stoffers with Arri Alexa LF & Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras and Arri Signature Prime lenses, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Picture quality is sharp with details well delineated. The color palette is vibrant, particularly in scenes at the home of Ellie’s parents. Primary colors are bold and pastels nicely balanced. Exteriors of Ellie’s parents home and grounds are especially striking. The brief scenes in Chicago take place in Salvo’s backyard garden, so we don’t get much flavor of an urban city. Ellie’s parents and Lucky dress in elegant casual clothes, whiles Doug stays in hippie attire throughout. The room that Sebastian and his father share as guests is covered in yellow floral wallpaper, and furnishings in the large home are of museum quality—more for show than functionality.
The soundtrack is English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). Alternate soundtrack options are Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Atmos. Available subtitles include English Descriptive Audio, Spanish, and French. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sebastian Maniscalco speaks with a kind of musical cadence suggesting his upbringing in Chicago. Sound effects include a tennis ball being volleyed back and forth, Sebastian on a water jet pack, the engine of Lucky’s private helicopter, Doug’s recorder music, and Sebastian and Salvo digging a hole late at night.
The 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD release from Lionsgate contains a Digital Code on a paper insert. Bonus materials include the following:
- One Big Happy Family: Making About My Father (10:53)
- Sebastian: The Big Stage to the Big Screen (5:41)
- About My Look: From Frugal to Fancy (5:19)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:48)
One Big Happy Family: Making About My Father – The film is referred to as a dysfunctional family comedy. De Niro liked the personal connection to co-writer Sebastian Maniscalco and accepted the role. Both Leslie Bibb’s father and Maniscalco’s father immigrated from Italy in the 1960s. Maniscalco’s character is walking a tightrope between impressing his girlfriend’s family and not having his father embarrass him. The real Salvo Maniscalco comments on the film, and cast members offer their thoughts. It’s an ensemble film and everyone had fun making it. Cast members speak highly of director Laura Terruso.
Sebastian: The Big Stage to the Big Screen – The jokes in the film are family-oriented. The film is loosely based on Salvo and on Sebastian’s wife’s family. His comedy is observational, and other cast members note that he’s a natural actor. The big difference between stand-up and movies is that in stand-up, you hear the laughs immediately, so you know whether the joke scored or bombed. In movies, the set is very quiet, so gratification is deferred. Maniscalco feels most rewarded when he leaves audiences smiling.
About My Look: From Frugal to Fancy – This behind-the-scenes featurette deals with the various department heads that created the look of the film. Production designer Javiera Varas discusses how the film’s primary location—Mobile, Alabama—was made to stand in for both Chicago and Virginia. Costumes had to reflect character and were sometimes sight gags themselves.
About My Father is amusing, while relying mostly on easy targets for its humor. The script is straightforward and obvious, with little nuance. The characters border on stereotypes and would be at home in a TV sitcom. Sebastian Maniscalco is talented and turns in a natural performance, but the content of this film might work better as part of his stand-up act.
- Dennis Seuling